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Volume 11, issue 15 | Copyright
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 7747-7754, 2011
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-11-7747-2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 03 Aug 2011

Research article | 03 Aug 2011

Relativistic electron beams above thunderclouds

M. Füllekrug1, R. Roussel-Dupré2, E. M. D. Symbalisty3, J. J. Colman4, O. Chanrion5, S. Soula6, O. van der Velde7, A. Odzimek8, A. J. Bennett9,*, V. P. Pasko10, and T. Neubert5 M. Füllekrug et al.
  • 1University of Bath, Centre for Space and Atmospheric Research, Dept. of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Bath, UK
  • 2SciTech Solutions, Melbourne, Florida, USA
  • 3Atmospheric, Earth and Environment Sciences Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA
  • 4Kirtland Airforce Base, USAF AFMC AFRL/RVBXP, New Mexico, USA
  • 5National Space Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 6Laboratoire d'Aérologie, Université de Toulouse, Toulouse, France
  • 7Department of Electrical Engineering, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Terrassa, Spain
  • 8Institute of Geophysics, Deptartment of Atmospheric Physics, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland
  • 9Passive Sensing, Met Office, Exeter, UK
  • 10Department of Electrical Engineering, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania, USA
  • *also at: University of Bath, Centre for Space and Atmospheric Research, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Bath, UK

Abstract. Non-luminous relativistic electron beams above thunderclouds have been detected by the radio signals of low frequency ∼40–400 kHz which they radiate. The electron beams occur ∼2–9 ms after positive cloud-to-ground lightning discharges at heights between ∼22–72 km above thunderclouds. Intense positive lightning discharges can also cause sprites which occur either above or prior to the electron beam. One electron beam was detected without any luminous sprite which suggests that electron beams may also occur independently of sprites. Numerical simulations show that beams of electrons partially discharge the lightning electric field above thunderclouds and thereby gain a mean energy of ∼7 MeV to transport a total charge of ∼−10 mC upwards. The impulsive current ∼3 × 10−3 Am−2 associated with relativistic electron beams above thunderclouds is directed downwards and needs to be considered as a novel element of the global atmospheric electric circuit.

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